7 Important Minerals and the Signs that You Could Be Deficient

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Just 2.5 cups of spinach per day are enough to satisfy the daily magnesium requirement. Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, robbplusjessie

Have you ever had a few leg cramps and figured, “I just get those from time to time” ? What about poor fingernail growth or restless nights? While these daily observances can be easily written off when it doesn’t interrupt your busy day, the reality is that they are your body’s way of alerting you of potential bigger problems.

Today there is an array of apps and programs out there that emphasize (or solely feature) macronutrient tracking and calorie counting. While these tools are handy, they are only a small piece of the health puzzle. Heavily relying on them for your total nutritional care risks putting your body in a precarious situation by causing you to lose sight of micronutrients, i.e. vitamins and minerals that play an important role in keeping your body healthy and functioning.

While the best way to know your mineral levels is to take a blood test, that shouldn’t stop you from learning about some of the deficiencies and their potential warning signs. Naturally, we made a (handy, attractive, pragmatic) list:

7 Minerals: Why they’re important + signs you could be deficient

1. Magnesium

  • Why it’s important: Plays an important role in mitochondrial function. Involved in many biochemical reactions in the body, helping maintain normal heart rhythm, immune system, and muscle function. Low magnesium levels are linked with a variety of conditions, including hypertension, heart disease, osteoporosis, and poorly controlled diabetes.
  • Signs you could be deficient: Body odor, constipation, muscle cramps, insomnia, headaches, and fatigue.
  • Foods that have it: Dark, leafy greens like spinach and swiss chard, nuts and seeds, mackerel, lima beans.

According to Rhonda Patrick, Ph.D, 56% of the U.S. population is deficient in magnesium. Read more about the “Three Main Causes of Magnesium Deficiency.”

2. Phosphorus

  • Why it’s important: A mineral and electrolyte. A key component of cells and bones and plays a large role in calcium regulation (healthy bones and teeth). Abnormal phosphorus can mean abnormalities in the bones, calcium, or in electrolyte balance.
  • Signs you could be deficient: Loss of appetite, anxiety, bone pain, fragile bones, stiff joints, fatigue, irregular breathing, irritability, numbness, weakness, and weight change, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
  • Foods that have it: Protein rich foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, nuts, and legumes are good sources of phosphorus.

3. Zinc

  • Why it’s important: Zinc is needed for normal growth, development, and sexual maturation, and helps regulate appetite, stress level, and sense of taste and smell. It also has antioxidant properties and plays an essential role in the immune system.
  • Signs you could be deficient: Growth and development problems, hair loss, diarrhea, impotence, eye and skin conditions, and loss of appetite. Other symptoms may include weight loss, delayed wound healing, taste changes, and mental slowness.
  • Foods that have it: Beef and lamb, liver, spinach, pumpkin and squash seeds, pork, chicken.

4. Calcium

  • Why it’s important: A mineral and electrolyte found in your bones as well as in your blood. Crucial for maintaining proper nerve and heart function, blood clotting, and muscle contraction.
  • Signs you could be deficient: Severe calcium deficiency can produce signs and symptoms of confusion and memory loss. A low blood calcium level can affect the functions of the nervous system and result in mental confusion, hallucinations, and delusions as well as memory loss, according to livestrong.com. Mood changes such as depression may also result.
  • Foods that have it: Dairy products (milk, yogurt, and cheese), sardines, vegetables (Chinese cabbage, kale, and broccoli).

Moderation is key. Read this blog to learn about “The Dangers of Too Much Calcium”

5. Iron:

  • Why it’s important: The tiny amount you need is crucial to normal body functions. If you do not have enough iron, your body cannot make hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component of red blood cells, and you may develop anemia, a disorder that occurs when there is not enough hemoglobin in the blood.
  • Signs you could be deficient: Symptoms of anemia include: Feeling tired, difficulty breathing, dizziness, headaches, feeling cold.
  • Foods that have it: Meat, seafood, poultry, beans, peas and dark, green leafy vegetables.

If you supplement, it is important to only take the prescribed amount, as too much Iron can be toxic.

6. Potassium:

  • Why it’s important: Potassium helps maintain the correct balance of fluid in the body as well as the right chemical balance of acids and bases. Potassium triggers muscle contractions, including heart muscle contractions. The balance of potassium with other electrolytes is the key to assessing optimal electrolyte function.
  • Signs you could be deficient: Weakness, fatigue, muscle cramps, constipation.
  • Foods that have it: Citrus fruits, apples, bananas, apricots, cantaloupe, potatoes (especially with the skin), tomatoes, spinach, Brussels sprouts (yum!), mushrooms, beans, peas, and almonds.

7. Selenium:

  • Why it’s important: An essential trace mineral that has potent antioxidant properties and is highly concentrated in your thyroid, making it a key player in Thyroid function. As such, hypothyroidism is a condition that occurs when your thyroid does not manufacture enough thyroid hormones.
  • Signs you could be deficient: According to livestrong.com, physical hypothyroidism symptoms can include tiredness and lethargy, loss of appetite, weight gain, hair loss, intolerance to cold, a slowed heart rate, dry and scaly skin, constipation, menstrual irregularities, hoarse voice and drooping, swollen eyes. Non-physical symptoms can include a loss of sex drive, an inability to concentrate, forgetfulness, poor mood and depression.
  • Foods that have it: Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, fish (halibut, sardines, flounder, salmon), shellfish (oysters, mussels, shrimp, clams and scallops), meat (beef, liver, lamb and pork), poultry (chicken and turkey), eggs, mushrooms (button, crimini, shiitake).

What’s the best way to get my micronutrients?

It’s highly recommended to get your minerals from eating whole, fresh foods, because of the greater nutritional value, fiber, and phytochemicals, according to the Mayo Clinic. That being said, be wary of processed, fortified foods and the dangers of over consumption of certain micronutrients and the harmful effects thereof.

Need more? WellnessFX currently offers tests for 4 of the 7 listed above – magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron. Check with your doctor or a WellnessFX practitioner if you’re considering multivitamins and supplements, to help you find the right balance that is optimal for your own biochemistry. Don’t forget that if you’re a WellnessFX member, we now offer direct access to ThorneFX supplements.

Hey! What about Vitamins?

First of all, don’t speak to us in that tone of voice. Second of all: Part 2 is coming soon! Subscribe to the blog and you’ll get a ping when it goes live.

Update: Part 2, “4 Vitamins & the Important Signs that You Could Be Deficient,” can now be found here. 

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The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.